Yesterday we thought we were going birding with a group of first year college students from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur and we did go birding but first Bon Jovi. I’m not a Bon Jovi fan but I am familiar with the band and it’s front man Jon Bon Jovi. Bon Jovi could be heard everywhere in my youth. We grew up at the same time in the same area of New Jersey in Italian American families. I can agree Bon Jovi is a big deal even if I have no interest in his body of work. My mother had a little Bon Jovi fever back in the late nineties. She and Jon’s mother lived in the same neighborhood. Mom once went to a Tupperware party with Jon’s mother so Jon and me, we’re practically related. Now we’ve had our photos taken on the same street in the same town in Baja. It’s become a tradition for Profe Emer to take his student groups to this spot and have their group photo taken. Bon Jovi was playing on the car stereo while we posed. I’m not sure if Bon Jovi is big in Mexico. The band is big with Emer. The Bon Jovi photo is the cover to the band’s album These Days. After yesterday’s big moment where we all stood in the street and smiled for the photo I looked it up. I wanted to know why Bon Jovi was in the remote town in Baja on a side street next to the grocery store. I found no answer. We were there because this small town is on the way to the day’s birding spot. Here’s a Mexican fan’s analysis. He’s irritated Bon Jovi makes no mention of the cover location or explains why. Me, too. If you know someone in the band find out for us.
After that diversion we headed into the hills. We were almost two hours behind schedule due to car trouble. So our adventure started late in the day. Our group consisted of five students, two teachers, and the Gypsy Carpenters. Gerardo Marron was our amazing guide. He was very skilled and a great instructor. He never laughed at our struggles. My loss of vision has undermined my confidence. I’m trying to power through but there’s a lot of awkward work as I try to see fine details through binoculars. I felt like an idiot most of the day. We spent hours on our feet looking at bugs and spiders and lizards and birds. The class was still going at 7:20 PM when Burt and I headed home to feed the dogs. We’d hoped to spend the night and camp with everyone but we could not find dog care. If you wanna make some money build a kennel in Todos Santos. Today I am so tired I think the dogs saved us from looking really, really old. I’m not sure I could have stayed up half the night looking for bats and owls and then started all over again the next morning.
You can see why I’m whining below. Aside from the glorious bruise on my upper thigh all is well. We saw the green flash last night from cliffs above the boundless Pacific. On our way to the perch there was a spider in the wind and a fruiting cactus wedged in a crack of rock.
We’re getting into the swing of our normal routine. I’ve returned to Spanish classes and yoga. Burt has been out surfing. We’ve played Bridge. Team Mittelstadt tied for first place yesterday. My dad will be here in about 10 days. Tennis will resume then or sooner. We’re meeting with the neighborhood kids in a week for the first class of the season. Tomorrow we’re off on a birding expedition with the UABCS (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur) ornithology students.
Tomorrow we’ll have been here our first full week. The big chores are almost done. Burt’s got the shade up all around the gNash and I think it’s the most effective and attractive job to date. The bodega is organized. The truck is empty. Our gang of kids were on us from day one for something to do. I met their harassment with my Grandma’s old trick, “If your bored you can help me clean.” Three kiddos showed up and took broom and rags in hand. They were competent sweepers and dusters and they provided me with entertainment so we got a big ugly job done together. I paid them each 20p for an hour of work. Yay, Big Grandma!
Ants moved in to the trailer withing 24 hours of our arrival. This invasion was colonization. I can tolerate an ant here or there. I really hate killing them with the whole bug crisis in the natural world going on but my home in MY home. Internet searching suggested Splenda or Borax. Splenda is easier to find so I went that route after a furious several hours emptying and cleaning all our cabinetry. Splenda and/or the cleaning reduced the overall numbers but there were still ants in bed and on the computer screen at night. That’s too many. Mayra had some Borax so she gave me a bit and today I sprinkled that in key ant locations. I mixed the Borax with real sugar. The ants take both home and feed the Queen. Internet lore says once the Queen dies the colony dies. We shall see.
In other news it was back to birding. Next week we plan to camp with the university group on a field trip in the mountains. This summer I won a grant from Optics for the Tropics on behalf of the Baja California Sur University birding program. The Optics for the Tropics folks gave us 10 pairs of binoculars for the program’s public education activities. Last week I delivered them to Emer Garcia, the program director. It was a relief to get them out of here. I was worried about a customs inspection finding them. I was worried about getting robbed. And they took up a lot of space in my closet. They are not my problem now and they will be a big help for the work we are doing promoting birding with the kids of the area.
Lastly, I played Bridge with the Bridge Beauties yesterday. And I fell down onto a concrete floor from about a 20″ drop. I landed right on the top knob on the thigh. Broken hip country. Here’s to having a well padded ass! The fall knocked the stuffing out of me but nothing broke. The ladies came a running and I was so embarrassed to have interrupted the play. What a faux pas. After a long time on the ground I got up and went back to the game. Janna and I won. Nothing like pain to focus the mind. That evening I was overcome with anxiety as the adrenaline dissipated. It felt like a near death experience. I’ve had some really big falls but this was the scariest. Today I feel like I was in a car accident. I ache everywhere but my femur and hip are fully functioning.
There you have it. All the news that’s fit to print.
The car battery was dead when we tried to head to La Paz, again, so we switched from Dad’s RAV 4 to our trusty and huge Dodge truck. Add buying a new car battery to the day’s agenda. We arrived at the Immigration office a few minutes after they opened. The office is a small white building with the a band of red and a band of green about a third of the way up its exterior. The Mexican flag. Inside are tightly packed rows of chairs, three windows for officers, a bathroom, a sign-in sheet and a number dispenser like the butcher used to have when I was a kid. The space gives the impression that desperate people spend hours waiting their turn for assistance. We’ve (so far) never waited more than five minutes and haven’t even had a chance to use the bathroom. There was one guy in line ahead of us. That was good since I left all the papers in the truck. Burt ran back to get them while I stared at TV. A Mexican version of the US’s The View was broadcasting. It’s called the HOTTIES. I kid you not. It’s a morning news program with a panel of five young women. Okay, maybe I misread the headline and they were talking about a band or porn stars. But I’m pretty sure I read the name of the show. Before I could figure it out Burt returned and it was our turn.
So far all our paper work appears to be in order. The officer, different than the one of two days ago but equally friendly, found our accounts on their computer system, so I had successfully applied on-line. Then she reviewed our paper forms and all the copies with us. She helped us fill in a few blank spots and was pleased to see we had three copies of the bank receipt for paying for the visas. She handed us a receipt saying we’d made the application and told us we should hear something in ten days. Ten calendar days is the 8th of December. Ten business days is the start of the holiday season. It’s out of our hands now. We made our submittal in ten minutes.
Before we reached the car I received two official emails, one for each of us, saying our visas were in process and they gave a link to our personal account where we could check the status of our application. I will try to avoid checking it several times a day. In college I would check my P.O. box several times a day even though I knew the mail only came in once a day. This compulsive mail checking developed because a friend would slip fun notes in the box’s slot and I never knew when one would arrive. I never shook the habit even when the note fairy graduated. Texting and all the other modes of communication we have today have ruined the note leaving habits of our past. Even Mexico is sending me email. Burt texts.
I hope we did it all properly. Time to start enjoying our season here. We stopped in at the old municipal market and picked up some fruits and I bought a liquado of strawberries, papaya, milk, honey, and ginger. Liquados are the original smoothie. My server accidentally made twice what I paid for but she gave it all to me anyway but only with a small cup. I drank and she refilled. Burt bought two bottles of local honey. The honey is the color of black tea. Then we headed to Soriana a modern and enormous grocery store and department store all in one. Sorianas are like Walmart Superstores with appliances. At Soriana I found Splenda for my ant eradication program. Reputable online sources say Splenda kills ants. Glad I don’t eat it. And finally we went to an AutoZone and bought a new battery for dad’s car. He’ll be here in two weeks. I’m sure he’ll appreciate a functioning vehicle.
Now we are home and collapsed in bed. It’s warm. Ants are around but their numbers are greatly reduced. Birding plans tonight.
So there’s this thing I wanted to tell you about but so much time has passed it seems I should move on. So, next time I’m wondering what to write about remind me to describe Jack’s house to you. Burt calls it a unibomber cabin. He’s got the drift of it but Jack’s place is more interesting because he’s not intentionally leaving behind modern conveniences. Jack’s home is magnificently uninviting and it has water and electricity. I’d like to capture the sensations of visiting in writing. Meanwhile, here we are in Mexico.
After leaving Jack’s place in the Sierra foothills we’d planned to visit San Francisco area friends. The vast and thick plume of smoke from the Camp Fire forced us to keep moving south to look for clearer air. Smoke is nothing to mess around with when you have a heart issue and when you’ve already been exposed to severe concentrations in the past (Hello, Montana?). It was sad to bail on friends but bail we did. This brought us to the central coast for a few days of pre-Mexico chores and an early Thanksgiving feast. It was smokey but not deadly in the Paso Robles area. I was irritable. My constant state these days. Backache, eye blob, trumpitis and the hot flashes have returned. Our friends were nice to me, anyway. I dragged everyone out to see Bohemian Rhapsody and it did wonders for us all. It was a fun movie even if it strains credibility.
Finally we were on the road to Mexico. Then we realized we had more chores and it was Thanksgiving week in LA. We were slowed by our desperate need for new batteries for the gNash solar system and tires, too. This put us in the deadly no man’s land between Bakersfield and LA. The Tejon Pass area. OMG. An hour north of LA on the Monday before turkey day and the roads were full of semis all looking for a place to pull over and make their required rest stops. We drove ina circle for an hour. There was a Walmart we almost dared becuase teh manager said it ‘might be okay.’ They only rented the lot. Dispersed signs said otherwise when we finally spotted them. Rather than dare the LA spaghetti we headed back NORTH to a Pilot truck stop. It was full at 5:00 PM. We went to another huge vacant parking lot. Abandoned mall. More signs forbidding parking. Burt was tired. I was my usual crabby-assed self. Finally we decided to hit a state park about 15 miles west of the freeway. We arrived around 8PM. It was dark. There was room. We were up at 4 AM and on the road towards Potrero State Park. That place was empty when we arrived but due to fill by the next day. An entire family tree had rented the place for Thanksgiving. That disaster was barely averted. A day later and our usual spot to hang before we cross the border would have been full, too. We learned to avoid LA during the holidays after a couple of bruising trips early on. Ever since we’d made an effort to enter Mexico from points further east but we forgot there was a reason and it wasn’t merely because we happened to be there. Maybe we’ll remember this time. LA and San Diego and all points in between from the Sunday before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day should be avoided at all costs. State parks on the coast are filled months in advance. And they cost too much, too.
My mood lightened as soon as we crossed the border and then a day later Burt was sick. He dragged his ass and our home down the peninsula in 5 days instead of 3. I did offer to drive but the thought of me one-eyed driving on the shoulder-less transpeninsula highway was an idea neither of us could stomach. The extra days gave us time in La Paz to start our visa process so it worked out brilliantly.
And so here we are. The gNach is on her spot in El Pescadero. Ants swarmed in as soon as we landed. Burt’s been unpacking these last two days. I have torn the trailer apart rooting out the ants. I found an open bag of raisins and a withered fig that they were using as their home bases. All food is tightly sealed and all crumbs swept away. Hopefully they will migrate on their own. When I’m not spraying the army of hormigas with white vinegar I am rounding up the paper work to finish the next stage of our visa application process.
Here’s an abridged version of the visa process: 1. Apply for the visa in the US. This means show up to a consulate with passports and many copies of evidence that you can afford to retire in Mexico. Bring photos. 2. Cross the border and make sure you fill out your new visa forms correctly showing you are seeking residency. You now have thirty days to finish the next stage. Go! 3. Freak out when you realize two weeks of national holiday and a changing of the federal government all occur within your 30 days. 4. Read online to make sure you don’t mess up. 5. Freak out and lose more sleep over the new president (AMLO) and his minions and the holidays. Last time the government changed all the immigration procedures went out the window. 5. Show up in the migracion office of your county or state. For us this is La Paz. La Paz ia an hour away from our home. 6. The migracion officer is very helpful but she says: you know the holidays are coming up. You must move fast. We ask when the holidays start. We are given a very vague answer with a shrug. Any day now what with the president changing this Saturday and the Virgin of Guadalupe of the 12th and Christmas on the 25th and then New Year’s Day….I’m verklempt just writing this. 7. There is an online form we must submit online and print. There are forms in hard copy we must fill out. There is a fee we must pay at the bank and bring back a receipt in triplicate. They ask for a bill that shows where we live, power or water, I explain we have solar power and use trucked water, we have no bills. She says bring a google map. We need more photos. The dreaded official ID photos of Mexico. Our officer suggests we can get it done in La Paz today. 8. I run to an internet cafe to fill out the online form but the guy has stepped out. He’s left a sign saying he’ll be back. Burt is off trying to park. 9. Burt returns but the internet is still closed. We head off to do the photos. 10. The photos are below. No hair on forehead or ears. There’s a communal pomade pot for slicking your hair into submission. You can imagine how inept Burt and I were. The results are stunning. 11. Head back to internet cafe. Guy still not there but two nice women want in so they call him. He shows up. He’s sad to inform me the internet doesn’t work. Then it suddenly does. I spend 40 minutes looking for and filling out the forms. I go to print them and the internet crashes. No charge. 12. I take advantage of this disaster to head back to migracion and ask a few questions about the forms. This works well because the officer now recognizes me and seems eager to help. She takes me step by step through the forms. 13. I decided I am too tired to face trying on-line forms in Spanish again. I’m too tired to make sure I don;t screw up. If you make a mistake on your forms the whole process is rebooted and you lose your fees. 14. Burt an I decide to head to Pescadero and make camp. 15. Ants. 16. I successfully fill out the online forms. 17. I head into town to pay taxes, transfer money, pay for visas at a bank and get my copies of all forms. 18. The tax office internet is down. 19. The bank informs me I am using a bogus number for my money transfer. I panic. Am I committing fraud or have I lost $3,000? 21. In a deep funk I swing in the tax office. The internet is restored and I pay my less than $100 in annual property taxes. 20. I go home to regroup again. 21. April prints out the online forms. 22. I find the correct transfer numbers. 23. We head to the bank to get our money and pay for the visas (we’ve been home 48 hours) with the plan to head to La Paz and execute the next step. 24. At lunch Burt says,”What time do they close?” I check. The answer is at 1PM. We give up for another day. 25. The car battery is dead. 26. Ants.
So tonight, after two days of ants, unpacking, cleaning, copying, form filling, and bureaucracy dancing we are going out to dinner. Tomorrow at 8AM we are going to La Paz with many more copies of everything than they said we would need. Please pray, cross your fingers or make sacrifices according to your beliefs. The office is open 9 AM until 1 PM. And here’s the gospel truth, this system is a piece of cake compared to the US and for this I am grateful. We have to get her done. The new president arrives in just two days.
The eye emergency took us to Tucson earlier than planned but it was on teh agenda so no biggie. Our buddy Turtle housed us while we ran errands and did some minor work for her. She has a new porch shade and we started the process for our Mexican Residency Visas. We also reestablished a banking connection so we can transfer money to Mexico more easily. We hope to build a casita for our later years and we hope to start it this year. Building requires cash.
Turtle is the Northern Jaguar Reserve Coordinator. We met her last year when we went in to the Reserve for a construction scoping trip. Turtle wasn’t with us during the actual building last December but we knew she was out there in the real world ready to help if we needed a hand. We’ve stayed in touch and she was helping with logistics of our aborted Aros River float. Burt had agreed to help her with a minor project during their many email exchanges regarding shuttles and river flows. Once I was reassured I did not have an exploding eyeball we headed over to Turtle’s place.
Despite my aching back and super annoying vision we managed to get a lot of fun and life chores accomplished while simultaneously building a shade structure. Burt and I are have finished step 1 of applying for our temporary resident visas. I compiled a few pounds of paper documentation showing our financial status and marriage license and current photos. We handed it over, and I wasn’t so comfortable handing a stranger a detailed accounting of our financial holdings but I did, and our able and friendly handler, Grace, gave us our visas in return. That was after she made sure we had enough pesos to qualify. We had to prove to Mexico we were not likely to become a burden on them. The temporary visa has lower financial requirements and offers a door to full time residency after four years at those lower standards. The temporary visa also allows us to drive US tagged vehicles in Mexico. If and when we switch to permanent residency we’ll have to formally import a vehicle to Mexico or buy a Mexican tagged vehicle. Mexico (like states in the US) requires its residents to register their vehicles with them.
After the trips to the Mexican Embassy and the copy center we hit our bank and got our on-line banking organized for the great bleeding of pesos we expect this winter. We’re only building a modest place and it will cost peanuts compared to the US but those peanuts (due to US banking laws) are hard to get into Mexico. This is an area the residency will help, too. Now it will be easier to have a Mexican bank account and I can just write a check on the US account and drop it into a Mexican bank. We’re building a redundant system of money moving tools.
One of the highlights of our Tucson spell was the Day of the Dead Procession. Our friend Randy is one of the organizers and founder of this event. He was the Northern Jaguar Reserve ranch manager but has moved on since we spent two weeks out in the wilderness with him last year. The procession welcomes and integrates a mix of cultures and their customs regarding death. It is a beautiful reflection of the complexity of our broderlands. This year’s centerpiece was a silver ‘urn’ where the public placed notes to the departed. At the end of the event the urn was lit on fire. Randy, dressed in red and wearing a mask, pulled the urn through the streets while his attendants placed the paper offerings inside. The quiet, stately parade of costumed participants moved me to tears.
It seems a long time ago when we finished up our float down the Rio Grande. The four of us arrived at the Heath Canyon take-out across from the defunct mining town of La Linda two weeks ago. It was a very smooth trip full of unexpected delights and a generally relaxed ambiance. You can read about it in the posts below if you haven’t already. As soon as we landed things went a little south for me.
Recent flooding wiped out the road to the shore of the Rio Grande so you either hump your gear a quarter mile or you pay some dude an unspecified tip to carry gear to wear the van and trailer can park. At least that was the rumor. Everything on the Rio Grande was shrouded in an air of uncertainty.
We arrived at the take-out a day before the shuttle was due because desirable camp sites were scarce near the take-out and the shuttle company charged $75 an hour so we did not want to arrive late. Better to pack up the night before and enjoy the wait the next morning. As storm cloud formed on the horizon we deconstructed our water crafts and did the best we could to wash away excess mud. Hardened mud was everywhere. It was in the seams of Stells’s tubes, under the decking, mashed into the cam straps. If there was a hollow spot there was mud. We threw water with our bucket and used sponges found abandoned on the gravel. It was heavy work but satisfying. After nine days with no hope of being clean we were finally heading in the right direction.
As soon as Stella was cleaned my back went out. I was reaching for sponge to hand it to M. I’d felt twinges of irritation all week so it wasn’t a complete surprise but I had hoped to make it off the river and get a rest to avoid the drama. Suddenly I could not stand up. I was stuck bent over for about 10 minutes. The gravel and mud prevented a collapse to the ground. I just hung there in terrible pain. My legs began to quake as I tried to keep from causing more damage. Eventually I pushed myself upright. From that point on I was in the position of having to tell Burt what I wanted done instead of doing it myself. I hate ordering Burt around. He was receptive given the emergency but it was very awkward for me. Burt rolled up Stella and then moved everything to higher ground because the storm clouds concerned me that a flash flood might be headed our way. With the chore done I paced the beach and hoped for relief.
What should have been a lovely evening of storm watching was for me just a sort of fizzle out of a great trip. Pffft. We retired to bed. The next morning a team of characters met us and offered tehir services to shuttle our gear up to the road. Rumors of the tipped based intermediary shuttle turned out to be true. These dudes were at the end of the road in more ways than one. Wives had abandoned them because Walmart was too far away. They wondered if we hand any marijuana we could spare. They could not stop talking. Me, grateful for any excuse, said, “I need a walk” and I disappeared for an hour of road walking. I saw a coyote. My back was killing me but I adhere to the keep moving or die school of back care. I walked.
Without more than some hugs and a see you next year, we bid farewell to our companions. I had the Olvis in mind. I wanted a shower and my dogs. As I lay in the Van Horn, TX cheapo hotel bed post shower I noticed a really big cockroach running across my bed. Huh. There’s another one. I looked for the black bug. I even swatted at it. I felt like I was hallucinating. I kept seeing a bug run by behind my computer as I wrote. I got up and looked for it. I was very calm. That was when I realized to bug was following me everywhere I looked. It wasn’t a bug it was a really big floater in my field of vision. Hmmmm. Seems like a bad thing.
I googled sudden eye floater and read not to worry unless there were flashes of light. I mentioned it to Burt and decided not to worry. There were no flashes of light. If there were flashes of light the interwebz said get to a doctor ASAP. Flashes of light combined with a new floater might be a medical emergency. Twenty-four hours later we were doing laundry in Portal, AZ and trying to decide our agenda for the next few days. I lay in bed and noticed a flash of light. Oh, shit. We were three hours from medical attention. I immediately went into a panic attack. Burt called my doctor. He agreed it was an emergency. We called Portalites. We tried to decide how to best get medical care for an eye emergency on a weekend in a city where we have no eye doctor. After many plans and phone calls we decided to head to an emergency room the next morning in Tucson. Burt would get up early and pack everything and we’d head out as soon as possible. So that’s what we did. I spent a night watching the cockroach scurry as flashes of lightening lit him up. I wondered if I should try LSD. It might have made me feel better. Medical emergencies when you are a transient in a remote location don’t come with straightforward solutions. More later.
It was a long day getting into Boquillas Canyon. There’s a ten or twelve mile stretch of park where floaters are not supposed to camp. The Mexican side is available but it’s populated and we chose to avoid those areas. When we finally reached the canyon it was late afternoon and time to decide where to spend the night. This was never an easy decision. The Rio Grande does not offer wide sandy beaches with trees and plentiful tent sites. We juggled the various shortcomings and amenities. There were mud landings, no moorings, steep banks, hummocks. On the plus side were views, hiking, grass, shade. Ideally we wanted a flattish spot with a cobble landing and a tree somewhere within 100′. No mud. Well, no mud was impossible but we could dream. Access to a walk was nice, too.
Our second night in Boquillas was the penultimate night of the trip. We had in a mind a spot vaguely described and near a feature called the rabbit ears. Early on we had hoped to lay over and explore this canyon but we never were able to make more than 15 miles a day and did not store up enough milage to allow a rest day. Late in the afternoon we thought we had found the rumored canyon but there was no landing area. We decided to stop at the next hospitable bend. This was as magnificent failure to achieve a goal as I have ever experienced.
The camping area was merely meh. Two spots for tents and room for a kitchen. We’d arrived with enough daylight to explore the side canyon heading off into Mexico. On the beach we noticed some very small cat tracks and lots of twisted scat. If you’ve cleaned a litter box it was the same size as a house cat. One upside to the shellacking of mud was we could see tracks everywhere we went. Once the area dries out the tracks will all blow away with the wind. We headed up the canyon in the creek bed which required some boldering and thorn wrestling. We were rewarded with waist high blanket flowers and desert marigolds. Wet spots in the canyon walls featured mysterious flowers with lush leaves and scores of stamens. Flowers in fall would normally be all it takes for an satisfying hike but this canyon had even more to offer. The walls were packed with crystals. Literally packed. There were crystals of all shapes and many hues everywhere we looked. I’d never seen such a thing. I like a pretty rock as much as anyone but this was mind blowing. A site like this would be world famous on any of the western U.S.’s popular rivers. Here in Big Bend it was up to us to find it on our own.
I was tired. This was the first multi-day backcountry trip I had taken since before my heart troubles started more than four years ago. I had resigned myself to never doing an arduous trip again but my recent change in medication changed my mind. I figured I’d try and see how it went. This trip went well but by day 7 I was tired. So while Margaret scrambled up a pile of rocks I sat and gazed off into the canyon. My eyes were unfocused. I sat and looked without looking. I had the unfocused gaze of a hunter that sees nothing but catches movement in a wide field. Suddenly I saw something slipping between the rocks and cacti above us. I yelped, “It’s a mammal, it’s an otter, it’s an I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS! It’s black, it’s moving! Look! Look! Look!” Burt had his binocluars and he spotted it as I pointed and continued to describe what I was seeing. “It has a long tail, its face is flat, the ears are rounded, it looks like a squirrel, a really huge squirrel, its legs are short, it’s a squiotter!” Each of us took a turn with the binoculars before it disappeared behind a ridge only a couple hundred feet away. Nobody had an idea what we had just seen. All we could say was a short legged, long tailed, flat faced mammal that moved like an otter or cat.
M and M contiuned up canyon in the direction our mystery animal had headed. Burt and I returned to camp. The animal sighting was filed away for later research. I figured there must be a massive Coahuilan squirrel we’d never heard about. Maybe neotropical otters were in the area.
The most visited part of the river in Big Bend National Park is the stretch between Mariscal and Boquillas Canyons. On the US side there are campgrounds and a visitor center and a nice boardwalk hike through a bird rich swampy spot. On the Mexican side there’s an actual town. For a few years after 9/11 the border crossing was closed and visitors couldn’t enjoy a quick trip to Mexico and the Mexicans lost a lot of tourist dollars. Today you can take a boat across and catch a burro ride or a burrito in Boquillas. It’s better for everybody. On both sides of the river you can find hot springs. The US spring is closer to the river’s edge and only the day before our arrival the pool was inundated with muddy water. On the Mexican side we accidentally found a nicely developed hot spring and signs of a historic and prominent Native American encampment.
All credit goes to Mark for stopping to explore the mysterious Mexican coastline. We were a few miles upstream of the town of Boquillas and just downstream of the US hot spring when he spotted a sign and some structures. The going was slow and we’d already stopped for a soak and clean drinking water upstream. It didn’t look like much and nobody was there. Mark pulled in anyway and sent the probe ashore. Marg being his probe. The twenty pounds of mud I was carrying in my shoes, cracks, and clothing did not inspire me to leave the boat. Every exit entailed a limb threatening skim of slick silt but we got out anyway. Here’s where a guidebook would have told us just what to do and we would have dutifully done it. Without a guide we delighted in accidentally finding cool stuff. This spot was part of the Mexican park system and we didn’t even know there was a Mexican park in teh area. There were grinding holes all along the rocks. Above there was a pool of clear warm water. I saw that clean pool and waded in to float and dissolve my husk of clay. There was no point in disrobing. It was the cleanest 5 minutes in the 9 day trip.
When we finally arrived at the town of Boquillas we realized there was no landing for the boats. Burt and I presumed we could tie up and visit the pueblo. No such luck. Or if there was a place to get out, we missed it. Land visitors were crossing at a ford about two miles upstream from town and paying for a ride to the village. Kids waved from the streets high above water level. We floated on into Boquillas Canyon.
I had been eager to make it to the mouth of Boquillas because nine years ago a man had serenaded us from the acoustically sublime entrance to the canyon. I thought this would be a trip highlight. This year there was only a man looking for duct tape to repair his canoe. I asked the man to sing and he gamely tried Cielito Lindo but it wasn’t his thing. When I asked about the singer the man with the leaking canoe asked when I had last visited. I told him 9 years ago. That was a long time ago. Pablo was retired from singing as far as I could tell. I gave the man my twenty year old roll of duct tape and we floated on. I hope the tape holds.
Much of the stretch of the Rio Grande we floated is designated a Wild and Scenic River and therefore enjoys a certain degree of protection. Mariscal Canyon can only be reached by lengthy and bone jarring back country roads or the several day float through cane. We chose the cane float. Despite the mud and claustrophobia it was worth the effort. Rapids in this area are sparse. In Mariscal we were advised to expect two navigational hot spots, Rock Slide and Tight Squeeze. The difficulty of the rapids would depend on the flow. The guide book for this area had not yet reached stores so we were floating with information gleaned from the shuttle company, our iPhone maps, and a paper map. It was as uninformed as I had ever been on a float. So few people choose this middle part of the Rio Grande that it hasn’t been worth writing a guide. Our phones gave us a vague notion of how far we had come and where we were on the globe but neither offered information on the topography of Mexico. Half the river surroundings was marginally sketched in and the other half was a gray void. As a result we got to balance mild anxiety with the feeling of first time explorers.
Rock slide was a read and run situation where we had to chose a path through a maze of boulders. There was only one way through but with the flow in a middling to low range and the gradient low it was easy to stand on the boat deck and pick the route. Tight squeeze was another story altogether. From Stella’s deck I could not see a slot wide enough to accommodate her overly wide girth. My cataraft is about 2 to 3 feet wider than most rafts. I also can’t easily ship her oars. Shipping means to pull the oars in and out of the way. Stella was rigged a little top heavy (she was leaking on a side and required more stuff on the air worthy half of her tubes) and the gear made shipping difficult. Add to this a passenger in the way and it gets to be a gnarly tangle.
Since we couldn’t see a route through prudence dictated we pull to shore and walk down to scout the rapid. All for of us made the trek to what seemed like an impossibly narrow slot. Close inspection did not ease our minds. There was no way Stella would fit. I hatched a plan. I told Burt to row through, pull the oars and I would wait on the rock I expected him to lodge on and push him off. My theory was a lighter boat would rise onto the rocks more easily and I could give a stouter shove from shore rather than from the boat. It worked out so well I was able to jump onto the back of the boat as I pushed Stella and Burt free. Yippee. we eddied out down below and waited for M and M. They sailed through in their more slender craft with little difficulty.
Marsical’s tight canyon provided welcome shade and dramatic vistas. We were all happy for relief from the sun drenched cane tube of the previous three days. Birds of prey flew above. Black Phoebes littered every turn in the river. Spotted sandpipers were eddy hopping in drab winter plummage. High up a cliff on the Mexican side Burt spotted a gang of Audads. Audad are an invader exotic species that threatens the native desert bighorn sheep. Also known as Barbary sheep, Audads are a hardy sheep-goat intermediary species that out compete the desert big horn sheep for food. Presently it is open season on Audads. Teams of well armed hunters are using helicopters and all terrain vehicles to reduce audad numbers. Check out their horns HERE.